Category Archives: Things Endured

Trials, marathons, or otherwise draining.

Tokyo 2010: 26 Hour Party People

A blow-by-blow description of what is necessary to get from Shinagawa, Japan to Jersey City, New Jersey:

1/3 11:30 AM JST (1/2 9:30 PM EST) – checked out of the Prince Sakura Tower Tokyo. Discovered that the Airport Limousine bus would not be running due to a marathon. Directed to use the train system instead.

1/3 11:50 AM JST (1/2 9:50 PM EST) – with two heavy suitcases in tow, departed Shinagawa Station on the JR Yamanote, bound for Tokyo Station.

1/3 12:15 PM JST (1/2 10:15 PM EST) – arrived at Tokyo Station. Purchased two Narita Express (“NEX”) train tickets. Proceeded to platform.

NEX

1/3 12:33 PM JST (1/2 10:33 PM EST) – boarded NEX.

1/3 1:27 PM JST (1/2 11:27 PM EST) – arrived at Narita Airport. Queued up at Air Canada ticket counter.

1/3 2:00 PM JST (1/3 12:00 AM EST) – ticket counter opens. I am told I should check my coat since I may not be allowed to bring it onto the plane to Newark. Despite both suitcases being full, I manage to do so.

1/3 2:20 PM JST (1/3 12:20 AM EST) – while going through security, I am forced to throw out my can of FFXIII “Elixer” soda. The only reason I had it with me was because, as a duty free item, I was supposed to have it with me in case Customs wanted to see it. I discard it, sadly. I am happy to note that Japanese airport security does not force you to remove your shoes.

1/3 2:30 PM JST (1/3 12:30 AM EST) – we pass through Japanese immigration and customs. I am not asked to show my duty free items, meaning I’m not needlessly carrying an extra bag full of things.

1/3 2:40 PM JST (1/3 12:40 AM EST) – I purchase a new set of headphones at “DUTY FREE AKIHABARA”, having misplaced my regular iPhone earbuds. An hour later, I would find them again.

1/3 2:50 PM JST (1/3 12:50 AM EST) – we settle down to eat at one of the three restaurants in the terminal. I have a cheeseburger; it is acceptable. I am fascinated by gum syrup.

Waiting At Narita

1/3 4:25 PM JST (1/3 2:25 AM EST) – we begin boarding for our flight. We are in row 42 out of 44, troubling for someone who needs to catch a connecting flight less than two hours after landing (4:45 PM EST). Our legroom is less than ideal, and I miss being in an exit row.

1/3 5:10 PM JST (1/3 3:10 AM EST) – we take off. Watching a video about Toronto arrivals, I learn that I have to clear US customs while in Toronto, rather than in Newark – which includes claiming my baggage and then re-checking it post customs. Again, troubling given the amount of time we have for the connection, never mind the unknown additional security.

1/3 8:10 PM JST (1/3 6:10 AM EST) – I begin to get scattered amounts of sleep, in two to three hour pockets. I am frequently interrupted by food service.

TIME ZONE SWITCH ... JST -> EST ... -14 HOURS

15000 Miles?

1/3 2:30 PM EST (1/4 4:30 AM JST) – the pilot announces that we are being asked to hold in the air for an extra 15 minutes, which means we probably won’t reach the gate until 3:30. I notice that the in-flight map says we’ve gone 15,000 miles, which would mean we had been traveling over 1000MPH on average. You would think a navigation system could deal with the international date line and the fact that we’re now in the past, but seemingly not.

1/3 3:45 PM EST (1/4 5:45 AM JST) – we deboard and speed walk towards immigration.

1/3 3:55 PM EST (1/4 5:55 AM JST) – we arrive at the US connections baggage claim. I notice that our flight is delayed by two hours to 6:45 PM, thus replacing the fear of not making the connection with the frustration of not getting home when we had intended.

1/3 4:15 PM EST (1/4 6:15 AM JST) – our luggage finally appears. I withdraw my coat and replace it with the bag of goods I had needlessly been carrying. We clear customs without incident.

1/3 4:25 PM EST (1/4 6:25 AM JST) – we go through another regular security screening. This time, the shoes come off.

"Enhanced Search"

1/3 4:30 PM EST (1/4 6:30 AM JST) – on the way to the gate, we see two large gender-separated lines. The one additional measure that has seemingly been added post-Christmas scare, the “Enhanced Search” is an individual bag check and pat down. I am asked to turn on each electronic device once (phone, Kindle, PSP). I am asked to undo my belt, to lift the soles of my shoes, to spread my legs and grab the table. I am asked how the David Foster Wallace book (Broom Of The system) I am reading is. (I am unclear whether that was a security test, small talk, or a sincere question from the guard.)

YYR

1/3 4:50 PM EST (1/4 6:50 AM JST) – I finally clear the screening, having been in a longer line than Katie and opting to go to the bathroom before queueing. It is noted that had our flight been on time, we would have missed it.

1/3 5:00 PM EST (1/4 7:00 AM JST) – we spring for an hour of Boingo wifi. Twitter updates are quickly sent, email is checked.

1/3 6:00 PM EST (1/4 8:00 AM JST) – flight is pushed back again, this time to 7:45. I get in line at Tim Horton’s and buy a 10-pack of Timbits. They make me feel much better.

1/3 7:30 PM EST (1/4 9:30 AM JST) – an announcement informs us that the plane has arrived, albeit at a different gate, and it will be here shortly. We remain incredulous.

1/3 7:45 PM EST (1/4 9:45 AM JST) – flight is pushed back to 8:00. The crew heads down to inspect the plane.

1/3 8:05 PM EST (1/4 10:05 AM JST) – we board. We are in the last row. The pilot informs us that the plane picked up a lot of ice on the way in, so we have to stop at the central de-icing station before we can take off.

1/3 8:35 PM EST (1/4 10:35 AM JST) – we take off, having been de-iced. We are offered free headsets and free drinks (including wine/beer/cocktails) as an apology from Air Canada.

1/3 10:10 PM EST (1/4 12:10 PM JST) – having just passed the 24 hour travel mark, we touch down in Newark. The pilot informs us that we are being held on the tarmac for 15-20, though, because our gate is not available. There is a collective groan. During this time, we learn that Terminal C at Newark is shut down due to a security situation. I am happy to be traveling to terminal A.

1/3 10:45 PM EST (1/4 12:45 PM JST) – we deboard.

Baggage Claim at EWR

1/3 11:05 PM EST (1/4 1:05 PM JST) – our luggage appears. We get in the taxi line, doing that wonderful NYC thing where you avoid having a conversation with the illegal limo hacks trying to prey on unsuspecting tourists. A man behind me tells one of them off, to which the driver gets defensive, saying he’s just “trying to do us a favor” since it is cold out. I laugh, while mentally noting that it is about 40 degrees colder than it was in Japan.

1/3 11:30 PM EST (1/4 1:30 PM JST) – we arrive at our apartment building. We collect our mail, unlock the door, begin unpacking, and invite over Bruce and Alanna to exchange gifts and catch up.

It has been exactly 26 hours of physical time passing since we left the hotel.

Tokyo 2009: Getting There

Farewell, Newark

A few jetlag-induced thoughts/observations about getting from New Jersey to Shinigawa.

Ticket counters at Newark International Airport don’t open until around 4:30 AM. As someone who is habitually early to any air travel, it was hard to reconcile that we had gotten up exceedingly early only to have to sit and wait out about an hour until they opened.

Keeping in mind that this was an outbound flight, not an inbound flight – there were no noticeable additional TSA measures or screenings. Getting through security at Newark was trouble free, perhaps even more so than a few flights I’ve taken domestically this year. We’ll see how this goes on the return trip, where we do a quick up-and-down flight from Toronto back to Newark.

We flew Air Canada for both legs of this trip, one from Newark to Vancouver (~6 hours), and then Vancouver to Tokyo (~11 hours). This wasn’t a choice we consciously made (we played Expedia Roulette for booking the trip), but it is one we’ll make in the future. Air Canada’s planes are comfortable, their crews are pleasant, their in-flight entertainment more than acceptable, and their food edible. Hopefully the remaining two flights back will continue to bear this out.

Speaking of in-flight entertainment: really enjoyed *The Informant*. Glad I didn’t have to pay for *A Serious Man*. Rewatching *Inglorious Bastards* reminded me that my Japanese is going to be akin to Brad Pitt’s Italian. And how have I not been watching *Better Off Ted*? Also discovered that someone at Air Canada considers the Fresh Prince a mystery.

Vancouver International

Vancouver International feels more like a mall than an airport, and gave me some of that empty creeping feeling that I got when I flew out of San Diego a few years ago. Way too big for the number of people there at the time.

While flying into Haneda Airport would have been preferable given the proximity to our hotel, most flights come into Narita, about 40km outside of Tokyo. While the process to get through the airport was lengthy, it was happily multi-lingual and pleasant. Japan’s customs office, like everywhere else, has a cartoon mascot dog named Custom-Kun, but I only saw him once.

Waiting For The Bus At Haneda

At the recommendation of practically every guidebook under the sun, we took the Airport Limousine Bus to get to the hotel. 3,000¥ per person sure beats a potential 300,000¥ taxi ride. The bus experience is pleasant and somewhat bi-lingual; only problem was that after being on an airplane for 17 hours, the seats felt a bit cramped.

Introducing: Wrong Remy

Like so many others, I have found Twitter a simultaneously fantastic and mind-numbing portion of the internet. For every good thing (extremely rapid notifications for breaking news, lots of good links from friends), there’s an equal and opposite bad thing (inane trending topics, spam bots). While most of these are universally shared, there’s one particular quirk that is not common.

Twitter makes it easy to reference other users – sticking an @ symbol in front of their name is considered a “mention” and most clients will flag this as relevant to the interests of those mentioned. This is theoretically good, but in practice a number of things become clear:

  • With characters at a premium, many people can’t be bothered to type out full user names.
  • Because a lot of people are using cell phones to post to Twitter, the habit of heavy SMS users to shorthand text continues here.
  • Because a lot of people don’t understand how mentions work, they tend to throw @ symbols wherever they feel like, or spaces in the middle of user names.

What this adds up to: if you were on the Twitter train early enough to get what could be called a stem username – one that might be used at the beginning of other user names – you may be subjected to mentions not intended for you.

There are a lot of Remy’s on Twitter, and I get a lot of mentions for them. I’ve taken to answering them on a Tumblr blog devoted specifically to such endeavors.

Sighing frustration + helpful cheerfulness + Twitter anthropology = Wrong Remy. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

(This is one of two side projects I’ll be introducing this week.)

Project Moon Language: Prologue

“Let’s never come here again, because it will never be as much fun.”

While my interest in Japanese culture has existed for nearly as long as I’ve been cognizant of Japan’s existence, I never really considered going there until Lost In Translation was released. I am easily swayed by love letters to cities, treatments that shine warm light on the best and worst parts.

Lost In Translation always struck me as the film most reflective of both how I do travel (bewildered, often eating at the hotel, trying and failing to blend in) and how I would want to travel (see introductory quote). But I am rarely afforded the opportunity to fulfill this wanderlust when out of town; my travels almost always comes with primary motivations like weddings, or conferences, or family gatherings.

The film forces me into a parodox: while it is one of my favorite movies, it is one I cannot bring myself to watch. This is largely out of jealousy – I have been dreaming of going to Japan and wandering the same streets, and never finding a chance to act on it…until now.

At the end of the year, I will be making the trip I’ve been waiting six years for: a visit to Tokyo, and an attempt to cram in as much sightseeing, shopping, eating, and exploring as possible over the week of a major holiday.

First, though, there is the small matter of a language barrier. For despite as many times as I’ve rushed to consume imported media, I know an effective naught of Japanese. Abortive attempts at learning character sets have been made nearly every year, but now I have definite purpose. If I fail to learn Japanese this time, I will find myself in a strange land and being able to communicate only through hand-waving, pantomime, and apologies.

Thus begins a series of posts that I’m dubbing Project Moon Language: my attempts to fight through Rosetta Stone Japanese Levels 1, 2, and 3[1. I’d like to point out that unlike most geeks who use Rosetta Stone, we in fact purchased a legitimate copy through Amazon. This either shows my commitment to taking this seriously, indicates that I am a complete fool, or both.], as well as possible explorations into other methods and cultural oddities[2. Expect a post about mahjong that can only be described as “overkill”.]. As a 29 year old well past the age where learning a new language is natural, this should (if nothing else) be entertainingly frustrating.

The installation is done; the learning begins tomorrow.

The Other Shoe Drops: The PS3 Repair Odyssey

In May of 2007, my Xbox 360 suffered from what is commonly referred to as the Red Ring of Death. A series of four posts followed, in which:

* I spent 40 minutes on the phone with Xbox Support to request my “casket”.
* A week later, I received an extremely destroyed box that I was intended to ship my 360 back with.
* Two weeks later, I received a 360 that was not my own back. Because of Microsoft’s DRM, I then had to fight to get my purchases reactivated.
* This fight lasted another ten days, and involved a Better Business Bureau case, a text adventure, and much screaming into the phone.

Last, my launch Playstation 3 began to routinely crash after 30 minutes of use. This, as far as I can tell, is not a widespread problem – the closest parallel that Sony has is the “Yellow Light of Death”.

(Strangely, my RRoD occurred while playing Crackdown, a free-world adventure game where you play as a crime fighter with superhero powers. My PS3 issues occurred while playing inFamous, a free-world adventure game where you play as a crime fighter with superhero powers. I will not be buying Prototype, largely for the safety of my hardware.)

After the frustration I had dealing with Microsoft – a combination of poor materials, shoddy business practices, and a cavalier attitude towards the customer’s experience – I figured it would be worth documenting whatever hell Sony would put me through. Horror stories are easily found regarding service for launch units, include time frames of “months”, due to Sony no longer manufacturing that exact type of hardware. And given the bile that was spilled regarding the 360’s failures, it would only be fair to hold the PS3 up to the same light.

Continue reading The Other Shoe Drops: The PS3 Repair Odyssey

Bucket Of Tears: A Review Of Dance Dance Revolution The Musical

Buckets Of Tears

It is a strange experience to watch something you once obsessed over – but no longer care for – get bastardized. You can tolerate much of it, perhaps even find some humor in it, because it’s no longer something you care for. But part of you can’t help but recall how strong that obsession once was, and feel that sharp taste of injury in the back of your throat.

I sat for 90 minutes last night in the Ohio Theatre, taking in the third public performance of Dance Dance Revolution, a new musical by Les Freres Corbusier.

For context: I started playing Dance Dance Revolution in September of 2001, and played at an unhealthy clip until the end of 2004, at which point things started to tail off. By this year, I’ve played less than 3 rounds worth of arrow smashing; I have moved on to other games to fulfill my music game addiction. But if I find myself near an empty DDR machine, chances are I will find my way back onto that stage and stomp through a few songs for old times’ sake.

Also: I am not a professional theatre reviewer. I do not frequently go to the theatre proper – I average 2.5 plays/musicals a year. This review should not be taken as anything more than a gamer opining on a show claiming to be inspired by a game he used to play.

Also: I ingested no alcohol or drugs prior to, during, or after the show.

Continue reading Bucket Of Tears: A Review Of Dance Dance Revolution The Musical

Strictly Business

Les Freres Corbusier present their latest show, the world premiere of Dance Dance Revolution, created by the company, directed by Alex Timbers, and featuring original songs by Gary Adler and Phoebe Kreutz.

Les Freres transforms the Ohio Theater into a fully immersive, bombed-out discotheque as it fuses unmerciful Japanese rave music with deeply regrettable sophomoric comedy in the futuristic dance spectacular, Dance Dance Revolution.

Riffing on fizzy dance musicals like Flashdance and death sport movies such as Rollerball, the show is set in an Orwellian society where dance is illegal. A group of local street toughs harbor no hope of overthrowing the fascistic no — fun government — until a mysterious dance prophet named Moonbeam Funk arrives.

Inspired by the wildly popular video game of the same name, Dance Dance Revolution is like Footloose set in the future — but much scarier, and with 40 really attractive, barely-clothed young actors as well as free beer!

Some Thoughts On “The Happening”

Definitive Evidence I Am A Masochist

June has been a horrible month for movies. The month kicked off with the late May release of *Sex And The City*. My birthday was marred by the release of *Kung Fu Panda* and *Zohan*. *The Love Guru* and *Get Smart* came out this week.

But there’s one name in Hollywood that overshadows Mike Myers. One that defeats Sarah Jessica Parker. One that even beats down Adam Sandler. His name is M. Night Shyamalan.

After landing upon Christopher Orr’s amazing review/takedown of *The Happening*, I found myself reading excerpts to Katie over the phone during lunch.
“You *know* we now have to go see this,” she said.

Last night, faced with nothing else in the theatre on the positive side of the equation, I gathered my spite and bought two tickets to what could very well have been the worst major motion picture in the last five years.

As the company credits began – not the actual *movie credits*, but the *production company credits* – the laughter began.

It went downhill from there.

Continue reading Some Thoughts On “The Happening”

Tap’n and Slap’n the Pop’n Music Be-Mouse

When you think of things with which you play video games, you may come back with “joystick”, “game pad”, “light gun”, “keyboard and mouse”, or perhaps even “plastic guitar”.

Over the last seven years, no one company has contributed more to the sheer volume of gaming devices in my possession than Konami. These seven years have seen five dance mats, four beatmania IIDX controllers, one gigantic Pop’n Music controller, one headset, one plastic guitar, and one set of plastic drum pads. Few of these have survived the yearly purge sessions, but the point came across loud and clear: Konami is, in no uncertain terms, the king of the peripherals.

Or at least, they were. Konami hasn’t introduced a new music game peripheral since 2005 with the US flop of beatmania. (Mysteriously, that peripheral – a redesign of the old IIDX controller – was a nearly flawless upgrade.) Three years later, Konami has threatened the world with another damn drum set, the sixth drum peripheral on the market and the third introduced by Konami.

But this post isn’t about that monstrosity. It’s about the Pop’n Be-Mouse, a strange (yet cute!) Japan-only device which combines the shape of a beetle, the functionality of a mouse, and the general purpose and style of a Pop’n Music controller. It’s the newest addition to my gaming controller collection.

pop'n music Be-Mouse

This isn’t Konami’s first foray into PC Bemani – of course, you’d be easy forgiven for forgetting that those previous tries were mostly typing tutors like beatmania Da! Da! Da!. To its credit, the Be-Mouse is true to the ideals of Pop’n Music, it’s just…tinier.

pop'n music Be-Mouse - Opened

Konami has crammed a nine-button Pop’n Controller into a 2.5″ mouse. Each of the nine buttons is about a centimeter in diameter, making them just slightly smaller than my fingertip. The buttons are tucked away under two plastic wings that, when opened, make the thing look not unlike a beetle. The wings are fairly sturdy and don’t give me fears of snapping them off.

Let’s hold off on the gaming for a moment and talk about it purely as a mouse: surprisingly, it’s not half bad. The mouse feels good in the hand, and the buttons function as one would expect. The scroll wheel has a more “clicky” feel than my Microsoft Intellimouse, which I actually enjoy. The mouse is plug-and-play under OS X, but not so under Windows XP, as you’ll have to install the drivers before it does anything interesting. Of course, the Pop’n software does not work on OS X at all, so Mac users should stay away unless they’ve got Boot Camp or other Windows methods.

pop'n music Be-Mouse - Mouse Pad

While the mouse does come with an adorably weird mouse pad – full of half-broken English like *POP’N MUSIC MAKES YOU HAPPY, PRETTY, LOVELY!* – I don’t recommend using it. It is quite thin and light, making it easy to travel around your desk as you mouse. Worse, the texture it’s made out of causes the mouse to float strangely while you try to use it for regular functions. I went back to my usual mousepad and haven’t had any similar problems.

pop'n music Be-Mouse - Underneath

All things considered, the Be-Mouse is a competent laser mouse. But no one is going to buy this as merely a mouse – they’re looking for some Pop’n insanity. Despite it’s candy-colored exterior and endless supply of cartoon characters, Pop’n is notorious for being among the most difficult of music games.

pop'n music Be-Mouse - Media

After what should be a straightforward install, the Pop’n Be-Mouse software is accessible through the standard Windows methods, or by pressing the middle red button on the mouse’s controller. The game launches almost instantly, and after a quick load, you are off to the Pop’n races.

The game ships with 10 songs, most of which will be familiar if you’ve played at least one Pop’n game before. If you’re coming to Pop’n by way of another Bemani game such as DDR, you might recognize Daikenkai by Des-ROW. Additional songs are available via an in-game store that uses i-revo – but due to patch complications, I was unable to upgrade my install to the version necessary for store access.

Pop’n is a very visual game, so here’s some camera-recorded video of what the experience is like, end-to-end:


Pop’n Music Be-Mouse Demonstration from Dan Dickinson on Vimeo.

While Pop’n Be-Mouse is fun for what it is – *Pop’n Music Lite PC* – it’s important to note what it isn’t.

If you’re looking for extreme Hell course-style difficulty, you may wish to look elsewhere. The game features four difficulty modes; three of which are shared with the traditional Pop’n games (5-Line, 9-Line Normal, 9-Line Hyper). But 9-Line Ex, the peak difficulty level, has been dropped. Instead, users will find a 3-Line version, boiling a song down to a whopping three keys out of the nine available.

Likewise, Poppers familiar with some of the other modes that appear on the Pop’n games should prepare for the minimum possible in presentation. There’s no training mode, no versus or courses, no character select, no unlocks, no COOLs or arcade stage scoring or ojamas. It’s Bemani at the most basic form – pick a song, play, repeat. It will track your clears and best score on each difficulty level, but that’s about it.

Finally, it could potentially be used for a controller for other applications – MAME32 saw it as joystick input – were the red center button not bound to launch the Pop’n app. I think this can be worked around by killing the application in the system tray, but I haven’t verified this yet.

In short: it’s a decent mouse with the neat feature to play a music game as well. Is it worth dropping $70 plus shipping on? Perhaps not, but in the wide array of merchandise that Konami has put out for Bemani players over the years, at least this one is functional *and* fun.

The Pop’n Music Be-Mouse can be imported through Play-Asia.

pop'n music Be-Mouse - Front Box pop'n music Be-Mouse - Back Box pop'n music Be-Mouse - Mouse Pad pop'n music Be-Mouse pop'n music Be-Mouse - Underneath pop'n music Be-Mouse - Opened pop'n music Be-Mouse - Finger On The Button pop'n music Be-Mouse - Media